Greece’s plight must jolt us into action - Mmusi Maimane

DA leader says it is crucial to protect integrity of institutions of democracy that are meant to keep our govt honest

To protect our democracy, we must protect our institutions

16 July 2015

Note to Editors: The following remarks were delivered by the DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane MP, at an event hosted by the British Chamber of Business in Southern Africa in Johannesburg. The Leader was joined by the DA Shadow Minister of Small Business Development, Toby Chance MP, and DA Chief Whip in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, Mike Moriarty MPL.

Good evening, distinguished guests,

With all that is happening in Europe right now, it is an opportune time for us in South Africa to also take stock of our own situation. We need a frank and honest assessment of where our economy is, and where we are headed.

Greece’s plight must jolt us into action. They didn’t wake up one day and find themselves heavily indebted and unable to meet their obligations. Their crisis was a long time coming, but they failed to act when the signs were there.

Without being alarmist, some of those signs are here in South Africa too.

We’re nowhere near Greece’s situation yet but, in many respects, we’re heading in the same direction. Our debt is getting away from us, our public sector wage bill is way too high, corruption – both in government and the private sector – is rampant and our savings rate is too low.

We still have time to rectify this, but we must act now - quickly and decisively.

I have recently spoken, at length, about what we should do – and what a DA government will do – to combat each of these challenges. Since we launched our Vision 2029 a month ago here in Gauteng, I have been on the road, speaking to many communities and audiences about what South Africa could look like after 10 years of DA-led government.

Much of this Vision describes a stable, expanding economy built around entrepreneurship, increased trade, accountability in government and zero tolerance for corruption. From the moment the DA sets foot in the Union Buildings, we will make it our priority to make South Africa the beating heart of the African economy.

But there are things that cannot wait until then. Even before we enter the Union Buildings, we have a crucial job to do in safeguarding our democracy from the abuse of power.

It is a job we’ve been doing relentlessly during all our years in opposition, but now that we’re fast closing the gap on the ruling party, the stakes have been raised and we’ll need to redouble our efforts.

South Africa has one of the strongest, most progressive Constitutions in the world, and we have a history of a free and critical press and an independent judiciary. The combination of these elements should make for a healthy and vibrant democracy.

But as we move deeper into Jacob Zuma’s second term of office, one thing has become very clear: For him and his cronies, staying in power and staying out of court far outweigh any obligation to uphold our Constitution and apply the Rule of Law without fear or favour.

We’ve seen it in the way our Chapter Nine institutions are brought under the influence of the ruling faction of the ANC through strategic cadre deployment.

We’ve seen it in the disregard for the sanctity of Parliament by both the ruling party and the EFF.

We’ve seen it in the way several prominent media titles and channels have become “loyal” through new, politically-connected ownership.

We’ve seen it in the manipulation of municipal boundaries ahead of elections to shore up ANC support or dilute the DA’s strength.

We’ve seen it in the selective adherence by the government to court rulings, and their outspoken criticism of the judiciary.

We know by now that we can’t trust Jacob Zuma’s ANC to simply do the right thing when it comes to contesting free and fair elections, protecting our Constitution or ensuring that those guilty of corruption are brought to book.

This is why it is crucial that we protect the integrity of the institutions of democracy that are meant to keep our government honest. Because only if these institutions function properly and independently, can our economy flourish, can businesses succeed and can our country thrive.

When we inherit the governing role in our young democracy, it cannot already be broken.

Much of what the DA does in opposition isn’t recognised or reported on in the media. The battles we fight – in Parliamentary committees, through written and oral questions, through oversight and in the various courts – are often long and drawn-out, and normally don’t make the front-page news.

It’s hard work, it’s not glamorous, it’s not sensational and it’s not instant.

But our job is not to make the news. Our job is to protect our democracy.

For all their bluster and grandstanding on the Nkandla issue, the EFF are no closer to holding the president to account than they were in May last year. Fourteen months into their first term in Parliament, they have nothing to show for their chants and disruptions.

If the EFF were to stop doing what they do, the only noticeable difference would be that Parliament would cease to be disrupted and some work would get done.

But if the DA were to stop doing what we do, almost every legal challenge to the government and the president’s abuse of power would disappear. We have, in many ways, become the thin blue line that shields our democracy from greed and self-interest.

We will continue to do so until we are in a position – in national government – to firewall these institutions from manipulation and interference. And one of the first changes a DA government will make will be to limit the president’s powers of appointment.

As it stands, our president appoints a staggering spread of influential people.

He appoints his Deputy President, his Ministers and Deputy Ministers, the Leader of Business in Government, ambassadors and a host of other diplomatic titles.

He also, after a show of consultation, appoints members of the Judicial Services Commission, the Chief Justice, the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal and the judges of the Constitutional Court.

Then he also gets to appoint the heads of most of our independent Chapter 9 Institutions – the Public Protector, the Auditor-General, members of the IEC, the Human Rights Commission and the Gender Equality Commission.

He appoints the head of the NPA, the head of the SIU, the Military Command of the Defence Force, the National Police Commissioner, the Governor of the Reserve Bank, SARS Commissioners, and the list goes on and on.

Even if you could say for certain that the president would put the country’s interests ahead of his own – which we most certainly can’t – this would still be far too much power in the hands of one person.

Our president has used just about every appointment I have mentioned here to further his own interest and shield himself from prosecution. This policy of loyal cadre deployment has made it impossible for independent thinkers to do their jobs, as is evidenced by the growing list of golden handshakes handed out recently at SARS, the Hawks, the NPA and the SABC.

We can talk all we like about reviving our economy, supporting entrepreneurs and growing jobs, but if we don’t protect the foundations on which our democracy was built, this will all come to nothing.

Our vision for a safe, prosperous and inclusive South Africa under a DA government is dependent on the integrity of the institutions that hold our democracy together. This vision will not be achieved if we allow greed and self-interest to erode critical institutions such as our revenue collector, our electoral watchdog or our prosecuting authority.

The DA’s recommendations for creating firewalls around these institutions range from Constitutional amendments to more effective checks and balances over Executive power.

We are guided by the Constitution in everything we do, and we believe that the Rule of Law applies in the same way to everyone in this country, regardless of position or power.

If we can help safeguard these important institutions, we will have won half the battle in building the South Africa described in our Vision 2029.

A stable South Africa where entrepreneurs and investors know where they stand with government and its policies.

An efficient South Africa where performance and delivery are far more important than the right political connections.

A prosperous South Africa geared for business, trade, growth and jobs.

A South Africa built on Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity for all its people.

I thank you.

Issued by the DA, July 16 2015